State Incentive Programs that Encourage Allied Health Professionals to Provide Care for Underserved Populations


Objective: Incentive programs are a common strategy to address health professional shortages, and this study sought to systematically describe allied health incentive programs at the state level (including the District of Columbia)—their goals, policies, practices, and available data on their success in allied health professional recruitment and retention to rural and underserved areas.
Data/Setting: Data came from online searches in all 50 states and DC as well as 30 semi-structured phone interviews with key informants from 27 states in 2018.
Design/Methods: We included programs providing financial support or training opportunities to students or professionals in return for a service requirement in a defined medically underserved setting (programs that only targeted physicians, dentists, nurses, physician assistants, or pharmacists were excluded). Interviews explored program goals, eligible professions, incentives offered, service obligations, facilitators and barriers to recruitment and retention, importance of incentive programs as a means of addressing allied health professional shortages, and program success.
Results: Most programs targeted allied health as well as primary care professionals such as doctors, nurses, and dentists. Non-allied health professionals often took priority over allied health in the allocation of incentives. Allied health professionals were eligible for incentives in 43 states and DC, and 16 states had more than one allied health program. 39 different types of allied health professionals were eligible for incentives; the most common types were behavioral or mental health professionals. Loan repayment, funded by states alone or in partnership with the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration, was the most common type of incentive, followed by scholarships and tax credits. Reported allied health professional recruitment and retention barriers included non-competitive salaries, lack of benefits and professional support, poor fit with rural communities, burnout, and lack of rural community infrastructure. Recruitment and retention facilitators included community engagement with program participants, competitive compensation, pre-existing commitment of applicants to rural or underserved area practice, professional support for work-life balance, and the natural environment.
Conclusions: We found that state programs frequently mirrored federal programs by offering loan repayment to a similar set of eligible occupations, including allied health. Programs often gave higher priority to primary care medicine, dentistry, nursing, and behavioral health occupations, while numerous allied health occupations outside of these categories were excluded from most states’ programs Overall, study participants thought their incentive programs were important in addressing allied health professional shortages with some noted challenges in measuring program impact.
This study resulted in a full report and a 2-page policy brief that can be found in the publications section of our website.
Project Researcher: Davis Patterson, PhD
Contact Info:



HRSA: HWRC Allied Health






Authors Title Type Date Documents/Media
Schwartz MR, Patterson DG, McCarty RL State Incentive Programs that Encourage Allied Health Professionals to Provide Care for Rural and Underserved Populations PUBLICATION 12-10-2019
Full Report
Policy Brief
Patterson DG, Schwartz MR, McCarty RL State incentive programs that encourage allied health professionals to provide care for underserved populations. PRESENTATION 06-03-2019
Patterson DG State Incentive Programs that Encourage Allied Health Professionals to Provide Care for Underserved Populations PRESENTATION 05-02-2019 PDF